The Broadbent Blog


How to build a progressive future for BC

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On September 22 and 23, the Broadbent Institute hosted Progress Summit BC to chart a progressive path forward for the province in this critical election year. Below are key insights put forward by leaders from six different sectors on the BC they want to build — the progressive policy changes and hard choices that must be made to build the province of their dreams.

Climate action now:

By Josha MacNab, BC Director, Pembina Institute

It is possible to imagine a British Columbia where we deal with climate change and transition BC to a low-carbon economy. This is not a radical idea, nor is it particularly new, but the climate plan that was released in the depths of August by the provincial government would have you believe otherwise. In case you missed it, that climate plan will see emissions continue to go up between now and 2030. This is a shocking abdication of responsibility to British Columbians, the rest of Canada and our international commitments

We know that a carbon price is one of the most effective and efficient ways to reduce carbon pollution when designed properly. We know that industry often prefers a carbon tax due to its flexibility in letting them choose the best ways to reduce their carbon pollution. We know that carbon taxes support the creation of the clean energy sector. And we know that as taxes go, carbon taxes enjoy a surprisingly high level of support. A recent poll from Abacus states that 69% of Canadians support or would accept a carbon tax.

Despite this rather compelling case for increasing what has already shown itself to be an effective policy in BC, if the government doesn’t want to increase the carbon tax, that’s fine. But it does not absolve them of their responsibility to present British Columbians with a real plan that reduces emissions and prepares our province for a transition to a clean economy.

There are other regulatory options available that the government could pursue to more aggressively regulate and drive down emissions across the economy and drive up development of the clean economy. If you leave one tool out of your tool chest it doesn’t mean you can’t do the job. It just means you have to rely more heavily on your other tools.

The BC government continues to trot out the antiquated notion that we can pit economic development and affordability against acting on climate change. We need to stop talking about what economic development we might lose with strong climate policy and start talking about what economic development we will definitely lose without it. In addition, the affordability challenges we are facing are not going to improve when we consider the increasing costs of cleaning up from floods, fires and storms.

The bad news is that there is no one silver bullet, no magic policy or idea that is going to solve our climate crisis. The good news is that we do not lack for solutions, innovation and creativity. We know how to do this. We just lack the leadership to do it. We need a real plan that actually reduces carbon pollution. One to which we could be proud to lend the moniker “leadership.”

Funding a progressive jobs agenda and restoring tax fairness

By: Seth Klein, Director, BC office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

To begin, there are two core problems we are trying to fix.

a) The Government’s BC Jobs Plan has simply not delivered. The BC employment rate remains below where we were before the recession. And the job creation we have seen has been almost entirely concentrated in the Lower Mainland; and

b) The BC tax system has become fundamentally unfair. When we look at all personal taxes together – income taxes, sales, property, carbon, MSP premiums, etc. – we have a tax system where, the higher your income, the lower your overall tax rate.

The upshot? We need a robust jobs plan, with benefits that extend throughout the province. And we need to restore fairness and progressivity to the BC tax system. The good news is – we can do both, together.

What follows are four key planks to a progressive jobs agenda, along with proposals for how to finance these plans in a manner that also restores tax fairness.

Plank 1: The $10 Child Care Plan

Not only is this vital for reasons of sound early-childhood development and affordability for young families, but it should also be understood as a key jobs program. It would bring about a large boost in women’s labour force participation, and it would result in the direct employment of many more child care workers across the province.

How to pay for it? Iglika Ivanova has modeled this in a paper the CCPA published past year. In large part, the plan would pay for itself through that boost in employment and the resulting taxes paid. But we propose closing the remaining funding gap through modest tax increases, with the bulk coming from two new upper income tax brackets (impacting the top 2% of tax-filers), and a one percentage point increase in the corporate income tax rate (as businesses also benefit from public child care).

Plank 2: A Bold Climate Jobs Plan  

The focus here is on green infrastructure investments, including: a major buildings retro-fit program; energy conservation, district energy and renewables; large-scale investments in public transit and high-speed rail. This would represent thousands of new jobs in every part of the province.

How to pay for that? In part through annual increases in the carbon tax. The CCPA’s Marc Lee has modeled this too, showing how we can use half the money for the climate action investments just mentioned, and direct the other half towards a re-structured credit for low and middle-income households. This can be done in a way that sees the bottom half of BC households net better off – getting more from the credit than they pay in the carbon tax, thereby transforming a regressive tax into a progressive one.

Plank 3: An Ambitious Housing Plan

We have proposed a plan to publicly fund the construction of 10,000 units of new social and coop housing per year

How to pay for that? Marc Lee’s CCPA housing paper, released earlier this year, models moving to progressive annual property taxes, with multiple tiers as home values rise. That could raise an additional $1.7 billion a year to fund an ambitious affordable housing program.

Plank 4: Reviving the Forestry Sector

This sector has been long neglected, and that needs to change. Indeed, as we wind-down fossil fuel industries, this renewable resource sector can and should have a bright future, closer to where people actually live.

If we were to substantially invest in reforestation, restoration of the land base, and implement policies that finally move us up the value chain instead of shipping raw logs, the CCPA’s Ben Parfitt estimates such an agenda could result in over 20,000 more jobs.

How to pay for those public investments? In part, that’s about boosting the royalties we charge on public timber. Right now, far too many logs are leaving in raw form or minimally processed, having paid virtually no stumpage. That needs to change. 

There are a few other key things we can and should do to restore tax fairness:

  • We need to re-examine all the tax expenditures (loopholes and deductions) in the system
  • We need to simply get rid of MSP premiums. Iglika has modelled how to do this too, shifting those revenues onto progressive income tax and a new business payroll tax. And again, done the way we model, it would leave a large majority of British Columbians better off and paying less, and bring more fairness to the business sector as well.
  • And finally, we have long called for some form of Fair Tax Commission. We need to put the whole tax system on the table and ask two core question – What do we want to pay for together? And how to we want to raise the money we need? A well designed, big and meaningful public engagement exercise would mean people can know this is fair, and have input, and can see that new revenues are going towards things that improve our quality of life and ease affordability, and are therefore prepared not only to say that someone else should pay more, but are ready to ante in a little more themselves.

Investing in public education

By Dr Farah Shroff, UBC School of Population and Public Health, First Vice President, BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils

Thinking about the BC we want to build gives us the opportunity to dream together.

We have a beautiful province, one of the most desirable destinations for people from within and outside Canada. One of the attractions for newcomers is the high quality of our education system. That system is being undermined and under-funded.

Supporting public education with a robust emphasis on the arts, music, critical thinking, as well as science and technology can help to create the smart and compassionate BC we want to build. Public education is the great equalizer. We know that well-resourced, comprehensive public education is one of the the most certain ways to create a better society for all. It may not be the fastest route to tackling inequality, but it virtually guarantees a strong meritocracy, filled with people who ask questions and are critical of authority.

Robust public education can help us to realize a BC with healthy and skilled people, good jobs, affordable living, a clean environment and excellent relationships between Indigenous people, immigrants, refugees, and settlers. It is a place where LGBTQ, elderly, youth, rural and all people have a place in the sun... and rain. 

Tackling poverty and climate

By Irene Lazinger, President of BC Federation of Labour

In our cities, province, country, and globally we face two major problems that will define our time on this planet – poverty and inequality and climate change.

Having the kind of communities, country and world we want depends on solving them.

What is that world?

It’s one where we have shared prosperity, where we look after each other, and where we don’t destroy the planet. To date, we’re not moving swiftly enough or with enough determined intention on either problem. Of course these problems are not isolated from each other. There are a number of points of intersection, particularly with respect to solutions.

We live in a very, very unequal society.

The minimum wage, in this the most expensive province in the country, is completely inadequate. A full time worker earning minimum wage of $10.85 will make $18,700 a year. That’s $5,000 below the poverty line as measured by the low-income cut off.  BC’s low wage economy is widespread – 25% of workers, around 480,000 people, earn less than $15 per hour. Of that part of the labour force, 60% are women, 80% are adults and 80% work for companies with more than 20 employees,

This helps us understand why the Fight for $15 campaign is so popular. People understand that one part of the solution to poverty is to end poverty wages.

How did we get to this low wage economy?

It’s been a choice of the Clark government to keep the minimum wage low, one of the lowest in Canada.  We see governments that understand the imperative —Alberta is paving the way here in Canada, cities like Seattle and New York in the United States too.

But fighting poverty wages goes beyond minimum wages. We need higher rates of unionization. We need a government that recognizes that unions are a key part of any poverty reduction strategy as they figth to make jobs good jobs with fair wages, benefits and rights.

The challenge of creating good jobs is also central to the climate change challenge. BC’s good jobs have traditionally been in public service and resources in the resource industry whether mining, fossil fuels, or forestry. Jobs will have to change as we move to reduce carbon emissions. BC must be a leader in ensuring it does not replace what have been good, family-supporting jobs with low wage jobs with not benefits.

How we do that is not easy. But there are some interesting coalitions forming to help shine light on this path forward. Green Jobs BC has focused in on four areas where BC could create good jobs and reduces GHG emissions:

 

  1. Transportation – through public investment in green public transit
  2. Forestry – through new strategies for more sustainable forest harvesting and more value-added processing, which would create more good jobs than clear cuts and exports of raw logs
  3. Clean energy – the key challenge here is investing in training and ensuring workers are qualified, certified and represented by unions
  4. Construction – retrofitting all public buildings to make them greener and training the green construction workers to do it

 

The point is, with the right political will we can focus on solving these two defining issues of our time. We can redistribute wealth and have an economy that pays fair wages, respects workers’ rights, and invest in good jobs.  BC can contribute to a healthy planet with jobs that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It won’t be easy but we know it’s possible.

Confronting our technological future

By: Mike Tippet, CEO and Founder of Wantoo

The people getting money in Silicon Valley are all promising to do one thing: disrupt.

The business of innovation is blowing things up and rebuilding them. The gist? Move fast and break things. The idea is that the reinvented industry will be better. 

Disruption can be a good thing but in any revolution there are those who benefit and those who bear the costs. You can like it or not but there is nothing you can do about it. You cannot be risk averse because this risk cannot be averted. Disruption is happening faster than it ever has and this is a challenge but also a huge opportunity.

Taking advantage of the opportunity and mitigating the costs of disruption require us to understand what is really happening. Disruption isn’t just about Blockbuster going out of business or a new way to find good sushi. The disruption we’re seeing now is more profound. Let’s look at some examples of what I mean.

  1. Uber is the the world’s largest taxi company, and owns no vehicles
  2. Facebook is the world’s most popular media company, and creates no content
  3. Alibaba is the most valuable retailer, and has no inventory.
  4. Airbnb is the world’s largest accommodation provider, and owns no real estate.

What these companies demonstrate is that the new economy is not about building an app, digitizing something that is analog, recycling or other tweaking the way the world works. Innovation is about re-imagining the world. It’s about building a new interface to the brick and mortar world we live in. That is the opportunity and we should embrace disruption and shape it.

If we are successful, we will have achieved a number of things:

Be greener: Airbnb took IT and applied it to housing and changed the way we relate to and use housing. They may be the greenest company in the world because they are bigger than the biggest hotel chains and have built ZERO hotels. How much concrete has this saved?

Values matter: Architecture is politics. As with buildings, ideology is built into the rules that govern the way our software and social networks function. Television is having a limited impact on the US election this year compared to the effect of Facebook and Twitter. By owning the platforms we can define the rules. We have a national broadcaster (the CBC). Why are we using Facebook and not our own network?

Slow down while we speed up. By re-building our transportation systems, healthcare, education and other things we can incorporate the efficiencies and productivity gains that new technology offer. This means that we’ll get more output by using less.

By embracing technology and using it to re-shape our province and our world we can solve our key challenges but we need to be equipped with the skills, resources and social programs to manage the transition.

Social supports. At the very least we need to explore the idea of basic universal income. Disrupting industries often means putting people out of work. Many of our most vulnerable citizens will be negatively impacted by disruption and need to be taken care of. But losing a job can also be an opportunity. Sometimes the thing that is holding someone back from starting their own business is the demands of their current employment. We should encourage these people to take full advantage of their transitional time and start new ventures. If we want entrepreneurs to start companies we need to empower all people to start companies. We should look at this not just as the social safety net but as a seed investment vehicle.

Education for imagination: Companies like the ones mentioned above are fundamentally communication platforms. Their success suggests we need to teach the right kind of problem solving. We need engineers and scientists but we also need people who understand the social sciences, the arts and the humanities. At every level of school we should be teaching media studies and design. We need to teach people how to imagine new things. These are the skills we need in addition to traditional STEM skills.

More seed and growth funding. The free market is not providing adequate seed funding for start ups in the region. Government needs to offer tax credits, grants and early stage funding vehicles to get companies started.

We need to recognize that the model of commercializing technology is out of date. The conventional thinking about how we bring new technology to market does not take into consideration that the risks in modern innovation are less about technical risk (i.e. the thing doesn’t work) and more about failing to achieve product or market fit (i.e. nobody wants your new gizmo). So we need to fund experiments that incorporate agile and iterative product and service design.

Finally, we need to take full advantage of everything that is offered by the Internet of Things, the sharing economy, automation, AI and machine learning to update our education, healthcare and logistics systems. We can transform our relationship with the world, the resources we depend on and the systems we use to support our society. We can not only solve problems but we can be a world leader in demonstrating the potential that bold thinking can bring us when we connect it to everything technology offers.

Rural development beyond Site C

By Ken Boon, President of the Peace Valley Landowner Association

The Site C Dam is a text book example of how due process was sidetracked by the current government and an expensive and unnecessary project with huge environmental and socio-economic harms is being pushed forward. To build a better BC, we need to learn from the mistakes being made right now on this dam. Here are a few of those lessons:

-  With electoral reform - and a move to proportional representation- Christy Clark would not have had a majority government and been able to “push Site C to the point of no return”.

-  There needs to be mandatory BC Utility Commission review of all major energy projects by BC Hydro, and the government should not simply be able to choose to remove such a review.  Such a review needs to have experts giving their submissions under oath and with proper cross examination.

- Amendments to the Environmental Assessment Act are necessary to give more strength to the recommendations that come out from review panels. There is a need for government to consider all recommendations, and give valid reasons for choosing to rule against such recommendations.  Full consideration of cumulative impacts, and natural capital also need to be part of the EA process.

- We need an examination of First Nation “consultation”, and just how meaningful that actually is. While the new government has committed to adopting UNDRIP, its actions do not seem to reflect that.

- We need “anti SLAPP suit” legislature brought back to this province. When a crown corporation can bring a civil suit against peaceful legal protesters, and when seeking an injunction is all they really require, then the purpose of the civil suit becomes  a tool of intimidation.

What many find so frustrating with Site C is that it is unnecessary.  If and when the power is needed, there are green and clean alternatives with less environmental and socio-economic harms that will create more jobs with less money.  Site C is the wrong vision for a sustainable future for this province.

We'll be featuring content from Progress Summit BC over the coming weeks. Check out our Summit website for more.